The State Taught Citizens Not To Listen

TODAY, [April 18, 2020] I find myself unable to concentrate on the work on my table, which is completing a research report on Boko Haram. Like the Boko Haram insurgency itself which has become interminable, this report is refusing to be completed. I watched the clips of the theatrics of General Burutai getting out of a parachute somewhere in Bornu State, with the unreflective statement in his mouth, that he was there for the final push to rid the insurgents. This would sound good music to my brethren and sisters in the North-East, but do we believe him? Can we believe him? How many times did the man take the cameras out and flew out of Abuja only to find him many days later cozily in Abuja waiting for the next opportunity to announce that he is relocating to the war theatre?

I feel so sad, not just because Abba Kyari has died, which in itself is a very sad occasion, but of the many things associated with his death. I grieve for his family (and especially his children as descendants of Dilara) but that is entirely a different point.

My first take is that rather than focus on what his death meant; some are into wild celebration. For me, his death is all symptomatic of the failure of the state to care about our health and that the right question to ask is what can we do to get the type of state and government we want that can take our health as sacrosanct? It seems we are lacking in our faculty for critical thinking; that rather than think of solution, we seem to be losing faith and confidence in our agency as active agents of the change we want. That is what the celebration of the dead meant. That we think he was so powerful, more powerful than our collective energy and wisdom and so we would only think of defeating him in death.

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But I am also sad that the media would be suffused, next to corona messages, with posts about Kyari’s death. I reflect on the millions of people who lost their lives over the ten years that the insurgency lasted, I cannot see any monument of the heroic struggle that thousands of people put against the insurgency. Even young Yakubu Muhammad Fannami, the youth that gave his life so as to protect his community in Kaleri Mosque, Borno State, has become more of statistics, a mere number than a sung hero. Death then for the poor is obliteration from history while for the rich and powerful, they remain alive even when they are in graves.

I also see, from my confinement in Kano, the way citizens are wilfully flouting preventive measures against the spread of COVD-19 such as refusal to obey social distancing, attending large congregation prayers, and refusal to obey lockdown directives. This they do not out of ignorance. It is a response to a message from a state they do not trust. When a state keeps telling lies to its citizens, and they found that this is so, any further message from that state would be taken as a lie. So, in this case, the failure of people to observe preventive measures is because they do not believe the government is telling the truth. They think it is just an opportunity to punish the poor citizens who have all along been bearing the burden of poor governance.

So, this is my real dilemma and the real cause of my sadness: I perfectly understand the frame of mind of the people in the streets. I understand the danger that their action presents to them and to the country in general. I am impotent because no amount of words or action from me can make the difference on either side of the divide. Government does not listen and in its unwillingness to listen, it has taught citizens to also not listen. Who am I to unteach that?

Yet, in this we have been all complicit to the crisis. With no alternative voices and programmes, citizens will create their own response to a state failure. Over the last couple of years, we have reduced the state, that huge instrument of power, to a symbolic key that can reside in the hands of just a person. So rather than focusing our attention on the failure of the system and how we can pose and work for the actualisation of an alternative state, we are spending tones of vitriol on the one man who has prevented democracy from working in Nigeria.

It is possible that the political science departments in our universities have stopped teaching the state as a subject along with class analysis. But what we see now is a conceptualisation of power that has nothing to say about the state. And if there is no state to capture, there is no way you can get an alternative power. Best is to find a place in the rotten system, may be, you can make a difference, if not better, of things for yourself. Focusing on one person is actually a flip side of putting the self-first agenda.

Until patriotic people begin to pose the question of power and the state as instrument of shaping society, we would continue to be wasting our energy in picking on the easy target for our criticism. Until patriots begin to think about the state as repository of power and begin to think on how we can wrestle that state from those misusing it, we will continue to have a revolving door syndrome of recycling old discredited people only to lament late how bad they are.

Good bye, Abba, sleep well, Kyari!

Why in Nigeria, we do not plan!

Someone told me that the reason why in Nigeria we do not plan well is because we have such strong faith in God that things will work out by themselves. Well, I am tempted to believe this. Otherwise how can one explain the recent reported discussions (I won’t call them directives) by states and federal education authorities that they would commence lessons online education for children who have been at home due to the COVID pandemic?

This perfectly illustrates the act of doing things without plan and Nigeria had an opportunity to plan for online education but failed to leverage that opportunity.

In 2003, under the guidance of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), a couple of African countries, including Nigeria, signed a charter taking over an initiative of the World Bank, setting up the African Virtual University (AVU) as a Pan African Intergovernmental Organisation with mandate to “significantly increasing access to quality higher education and training through the innovative use of information communication technologies”.

While the initiators of the AVU were good-intentioned, they were also naïve to think that African governments, which have allowed their own universities to rot, would care to support and build upon the AVU experiment. So, the fate of the AVU was already sealed even before it took off.

As of now, over 17 years ago after its establishment, the institution is hardly known outside a few counties such as Kenya (where its headquarters is) and Senegal where it has regional office. Of course, a few African countries have made tremendous progress in deploying eLearning to expand their education systems. They include South Africa, Egypt and Kenya, but not Nigeria.

Among its purposes, the AVU was supposed to be a demonstration of, and making a case for, eLearning as a highly resilient system. It should support the building of internal capacity for African countries to mainstream eLearning in their education system and support the building of eLearning infrastructure build-up in the countries.

eLearning has many advantages. It addresses the issues of both inadequate manpower and learning infrastructure, both of which are key constraints in the Nigerian education system. The AVU is also to support the provision of flexible access to education that is needed for lifelong learning. Above all, it is resilient against adversity such that, come rain, come sunshine, it will be there to deliver teaching and learning experience no matter the situation.

But Nigeria, boasting of the largest number of universities in the continent, did not take advantage to leverage from the AVU experience either in terms of roll out of infrastructure or even in making serious efforts to mainstream eLearning in our education system. Even though our National Policy on ICT in Education makes references to eLearning, this is not anything that anyone in the Federal Ministry of Education has taken seriously to see that the country has developed a robust capacity to deploy eLearning.

But nature has always a way of catching up with people and organisations that do not plan unprepared. So it was that in early March this year the rains came for the education in Nigeria in the form of corona pandemic. As the COVID-19 threatened to spread like wild fire across the country, education authorities at state and federal levels began competition with each other as to who was going to close the schools earlier.

By middle of March, all schools from primary to universities have been closed. As the students and pupils sit idle at home, suddenly someone came up with the idea that we could offer them eLearning and a flurry of consultations with television and radio stations began flying that the government would like them to broadcast lessons to children at home.

This is like someone in a race waking up to find the bell had rang long while he was asleep and his fellow competitors had gone. The world of eLearning has transformed and it is laughable that in this age, anyone can be thinking of television and radio for use as platforms for eLearning.

But that is the nature of things in Nigeria! With no plan, we wake up to hear directives that television and radio stations are to provide the air time for the scheme, and there were jubilations as if we are a country of jokers.

But who has prepared the content, provided the format, the modules, the monitoring and evaluation scheme and who has sensitised the parents, the children and indeed the whole spectrum of stakeholders that this is where we are going? We may decide not to plan but we should be ready to harvest failure.

If we cannot solve an ASUU strike within a frame that accords academics as patriots and government as the facilitator of solutions, we are only tinkering with a dead carcass that sooner than later we would abandon to our shock that we have killed the education system in the country. This has nothing to do with COVID-19 for when it is gone, we will be back at our stations and picking up the pieces where we stopped at the onset of the pandemic.

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